Vincent Sze From URBAN WOLF Interview

vincent sze

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Vincent Sze, the star of URBAN WOLF, a 15 part web series directed by Laurent Touil-Tartour which follows Justin Case (Sze) a MIT grad arriving in Paris for job interview with an executive search firm
who finds himself being hunted by a mysterious man behind a computer.

I really urge you to go watch this explosive, tension filled series which ends with a huge twist that you will never see coming. You can check out the first episode of Urban Wolf below or go watch on Crackle.com.

In the meantime enjoy the interview during which Sze talked about the casting process, the difficulty of the shoot and also what he wants to do going forward.

Can you talk about how you got involved with ‘Urban Wolf’?

Vincent Sze: Actually, I have an agent in Paris and he’s the one who arranged the casting. I live in Hong Kong. I have no idea what’s going on and so my agent arranged it with Laurent [Touil Tartour], the director, to go to his office and do a video conference on the internet with me.

The thing is that when he first spoke to me on the phone he said, ‘Hey, Vince, I need you to do the casting,’ which made me ask ‘How do we do it? I’m in Hong Kong and you guys are in Paris. Would you like me to go to Paris?’ Laurent just told me, ‘I don’t have the budget.’ So he asked back, ‘What should we do?’ which gave me an idea.

I said, ‘How about we do this, tell me how you want me to do the casting, the reference, send me a video of something in the film and I’ll film it myself with my own version and I’ll send it back to you via carrier or maybe I can upload it to on Youtube or something like that.’ Coincidentally, he had the same idea in mind. We are so connected for the first time and then he was happy. I sent it within three days.

When we hung up, I called my friend right away who has a studio and a camera and I booked the studio for the next day and did the casting myself. Then I uploaded it within three days. I did the casting, rehearsed myself at home all within three days.

What scene did he actually send over?

Vincent Sze: Well, he sent over an old French singer. He’s a singer in his 50’s and his name is Fernandel and the song was Felicie Aussie (see original video) which is a really French thing. It’s a comedy song performed on stage. The other one is ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’, the Charles Bronson one. It was crazy. The Charles Bronson was easier but the French song, singing onstage and making a comedy with facial expressions, it’s crazy.

Can you talk about the filming process, working with Laurent and how that was?

Vincent Sze: It’s really, really crazy. We were so connected from the beginning to the end. Everything we had in mind was very, very close because from the beginning it was a risk for me. After he watched my casting he rang me back and said, ‘Hey, Vince, I love your casting. You’re the best among all the people I have seen.’ Of course I’m flattered, but he said to me, ‘Vince, I cannot confirm you right away because I haven’t seen you in person.’ Within five minutes I made the decision to go to Paris and see him in person. I called him back and said, ‘Laurent, I’ll come to Paris and see you’

When I got to Paris, he said to me straightaway, ‘You’re the man.’ When we started shooting, a couple of months later I went back to Paris for shooting. He sent me the script three weeks earlier and I read the script and the first day on the set he tried to describe what he wanted me to do and I said to Laurent, ‘You don’t have to tell me anything. How about we do the take first. If there’s anything wrong tell me which part is wrong, and I can correct it.’

He said, ‘No, Vince. I haven’t told you anything yet.’ I said, ‘Laurent, trust me. I see where you position the camera. I see the set. I know more or less what we’re going to do. How about we try first?’ Then he trusted me to do the scene and he had his mouth open. He was speechless. I was like, ‘Laurent, what is wrong? Did I do something wrong?’ He said, ‘No. Vince, that’s exactly what I had in mind and it’s even more than I expected.’

The second day was the same thing. Towards the end we didn’t need to talk much. I would just go on the set and look at everything and we would have a light chat of the rundown, start from where the scene ends. Of course we have to talk about that but about the acting, we don’t even need to talk about the minor details. Nothing.

How long did the whole shoot take?

Vincent Sze: From the beginning to the end it took almost four months. I had a lot of break times in between because he had to shoot the other guy, the one who is monitoring me. So I had some free time to visit my hometown. I was so happy to shoot the film there.

The shoot seems very physical to me and it seems that you’re doing all your own stunt work. Can you talk about that experience, being on such a physical shoot?

Vincent Sze: That sewer scene was the first day of shoot. It was crazy. I had the diving suit under my suit of course and I was like, ‘What is that? I’m so afraid because it’s too dirty.’ Where we shot it is not actually the real sewer of Paris. We went to a center actually where they train the people who work in the sewer. It’s a training center but they build the sewer exactly like the sewers in Paris city. It’s actually the same thing but the water inside is the filtered water from the rain but still, you don’t feel that confident about it. It was still cold when we started shooting in August of 2008. It was still cold in Paris. Paris is hot only for two months a year. Otherwise the whole year it’s chilly and cold, especially in winter. I dipped myself into the water and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s freezing.’ I spent a whole day there, over twelve hours. I just came back and forth, up and down, up and down. When we had lunch, the assistant director and the production assistants, they just kept helping me and covered me with a towel. They took good care of me. The running is crazy. The running is like all over Paris.

There was a particular episode where you did have quite a few sprints

Vincent Sze: Yeah, because that scene described that I decided to run, to do my best to escape from every single angle that I could be seen. I just run. To me it’s a bit crazy because there’s no way that I can escape because everywhere has a camera. Everywhere.

Of all the scenes that you shot which would you say was your favorite to shoot and which was the hardest one to do? I can imagine the sewer was pretty hard.

Vincent Sze: Wow. There were a lot.

My favorite scene was when you were running, I honestly believed you were going to have a heart attack by the end. Also, in the recent episodes, your character is more confident, less afraid

Vincent Sze: Oh, yes. Number one, which is I went into the park and I realize that I can take the camera myself by looking at the children when they play with the water guns. That scene I love because I can really do something, like, ‘Oh, I realize I can get some revenge, finally,’ instead of just escaping anywhere without any target, without any goal. That’s the moment that I can change my destiny. I can also change the way that I act. It’s not only just the fearing, the scaring for no reason and not knowing who’s trying to attack me. Just knowing the camera is watching but not knowing who is behind. However, I can get revenge with my IT skills as I’m playing an IT man.

Can you tell me if the viewer is going to get a satisfying resolution to the story at the end of the series? Will we find out who’s doing this to you and why?

Vincent Sze: Yes, yes. You definitely will and it’ll be quite shocking. That’s all I can say. I don’t want to say before the series ends in the States.

You shot this in 2009, I believe and Crackle.com picked it up. Can you talk about that experience, that process.

Vincent Sze: It’s really crazy to me. Even now I’m in the States and being interviewed by you, it’s quite a miracle to me. I started my career in Hong Kong and have done movies in Hong Kong and I have an agent in Paris as well because I’ve been speaking French my whole life.

‘Urban Wolf’ is my first project in France and I didn’t have much expectation on this film. Of course I like the film, I like the story. I love Laurent because we were so connected when we did the shoot but I had not expected that the film could win all the awards in the States here. I’m based in Hong Kong and Laurent is actually in Paris, working for French productions and the film ended up in America, distributed by Sony.

It was like, ‘What?!’ Laurent called me for the first time ever since we finished shooting. I went back to Hong Kong and I continued on with my career in Hong Kong and he called me last year right after Comic Con and I really didn’t know that he was the one calling. He said ‘Hey, Vincent, I’m in Los Angeles now. We registered the film as an American film and we won Best Drama! [at 2009 4th annual Los Angeles ITVFest)]

I was speechless for over two minutes. I had my mouth open without a word. He called me the moment that we got the award so that I could enjoy the same moment. I was screaming on the phone. I didn’t know what I was saying. I was just screaming. Then of course there were more and more, Official Selection in different competitions and festivals. Most shocking to me is that Sony Pictures bought it.

It’s a fantastic series. You guys deserve it.

Vincent Sze: Yeah, and it’s changed my career, too. Now the Hong Kong audience won’t only see me as a local actor. They see me as something international even if I don’t see myself as one, but they see, ‘Wow, you’re going to France and now you’re going to Hollywood.’ Of course, compared to the others it’s not a really big deal but for myself, I’m very, very happy.

So you’ve worked in France and worked in Hong Kong. What are the differences in working in both of those locations?

Vincent Sze: Working in Hong Kong is really a good training school because some of the directors, they don’t really write the scripts but they have everything in mind and they don’t even tell you what they’re going to shoot but they hire you as an actor in their film. I don’t know whether you know Johnny To. He’s a world famous director in Hong Kong who already participated at least five times in the Cannes competition as a famous actor and French people love him. He’s the one who has everything in mind without really writing. So when you go on the set you don’t really know what he wants. He just tells you, ‘Okay, Vince, you walk from here to there and right in the middle, ‘Look at a forty five degree angle with a suspicious look and then you keep walking out of frame.’ That’s it.

Some directors work like this and so we don’t really have a chance to read the script. Of course we do have a script in most of the productions but it keeps changing so many times. Hong Kong is not an easy location to shoot because it takes a lot of time for the license, for the permit to shoot on the street or for example on the Metro. It’s really crazy so most of the Hong Kong productions are done very, very fast. So all actors have to be very efficient to understand the director, what he really wants and we must be very smart to understand right away and act right away. So as I said it’s a really good training school and that’s how I could be that efficient with Laurent, without him telling me anything. I have been going through this training in Hong Kong cinema.

Now that you’ve done a successful web series are you interested in doing another?

Vincent Sze: Well, of course I’d love to. I’m Chinese growing up in France and I don’t really see myself as French or Chinese as I am multi-cultural at heart. I can work anywhere and I can speak English, too, though it’s not as good as people expect but I’d love to do different productions in different areas of the world. I’ve done it in Hong Kong. I’ve done it in Shanghai. I’ve worked in France. So I’d love to do something here if I had a chance.